Playing Faster Tetris By Sleeping Less

Andy Kong
10 min readNov 29, 2022

Exploring counterintuitive results from my n=1 study.

Generated image of a sleeping person dreaming of tetris blocks

Medical journals, successful people’s biographies, even the alt-nutrition people who eat raw liver: the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that sleeping ~7 hours a night consistently is the best thing you can do for your long-term health. And I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself — sleeping less for a few nights makes you feel terrible, like you can’t even focus properly the next day.

But have you checked?

Background

A while back, I became interested in the Quantified Self movement, where people track a lot of data on themselves and run “n-of-1” studies, where they make a life change and measure how effective the change was. Experiments can ask questions like “does a light breakfast make me less tired in the afternoon?” or “Does melatonin actually help me sleep better?” (from Gwern)

I found these studies cool because they could actually be scientifically rigorous, actually blocking the experimenter from knowing which condition they’re doing that day (blinding), or determining results not by “feels better” but by actually calculating the significance of their results. I also liked how it reinforces the fact that health is intensely personal, and that not all lifestyle changes will help everyone the same way.

Example of an n=1 study from Gwern on melatonin

Inspiration

I’ve always wanted to quantify how sleep affects me mentally. Physically I don’t feel great after getting no sleep, and I don’t feel my best mentally. But I slept terribly throughout college and still got good grades and published research papers, so what gives?

I mentioned this idea casually to someone at a party, and they suggested there must be an activity that I do a few times every day that I could measure and compare to my sleep quality. At the time I thought this was a great idea, but not so actionable, and wrote it down to think about later.

The next morning, it hit me. As a Fitbit user and avid Tetris player, I had already collected all the data I needed.

--

--